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The poetry if Ellen Bryant Voigt.

November 3, 2006


I attended a reading of Ms. Voigt’s in Richmond yesterday, to celebrate her upcoming book, a culmination of a lifetime of poetic achievement: Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 .

I cannot say enough about the melodic quality of this woman’s incredible voice. As she was reading, the poetry lilted into a new life on her “southside Va-gin-ya” tongue. She recited, more than she read, looking deeply at a packed room of students, professors, community members, and others. Her eyes are a pale blue, and her shock of white hair is like the crown of an egret. She is an impactful pressence, but she exudes warmth, kindness, and laughter.

She spoke briefly, to preface the “new cache” of poems in Messenger about the nature of poetic sequence. I am trying to write a poetic sequence now. And, I am beginning to see sequence everywhere. Voigt spoke to an increasing turn toward the sequence among contemporary poets, away from the shapely volume, or perhaps, as a sort of mutation or progeny of the latter. She claimed her own fascination with the form of poetic sequence, with what happens when you “lay lyrics next to each other” and they begin to speak, one to another, to the reader, to the writer, to the literary tradition. Sometime in December, I will have an entire sequence of poems to lay end-to-end on this blog. Many of them exist in draft-form here already.

The reading also provided an interesting snapshot of a local literary community. Among the audience-members were professors from several universities in Virginia, including Mary Washington’s own Claudia Emerson, winner of the most recent Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. And, the young woman who happened on an unpublished, heretofore unknown, Sylvia Plath poem, was also in attendance. The politics of literature, like the politics of any profession can be daunting to an up-and-coming, such as I hope to be. Social strata are interesting animals, and word-of-mouth is a powerful tool. I always wonder, where genius and interpersonal struggle meet? How do they combat each other? What escapes into the cracks as a result?

I digress.

In short, read Voigt. You will be richly rewarded.

Also, here is a recording of her reading of “The Feeder,” a prize-winning poem published both in her new book, and in “Blackbird,” the literary journal sponsoring last nights event. Happy listening: http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v3n2/poetry/voigt_eb/index.htm

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